Calisthenics exercises integration in everyday brass practice can improve your playing.
What are Calisthenics
From Wikipedia, the definition of Calisthenics:
…a form of exercise consisting of a variety of exercises, often rhythmical movements, generally without using equipment or apparatus. They are intended to increase body strength and flexibility with movements such as bending, jumping, swinging, twisting or kicking, using only one’s body weight for resistance…
In Brass playing these exercises are added to regular practice routine, and generally will help improve general playing how so?
Integrating Calisthenics with a practice routine
First, we have to clear up some misconceptions about Calisthenics exercises. They are not musical or beautiful exercises. They will not make you a better player if you don’t practice regular technical and musical exercises.
Let’s compare with a professional tennis player or any competitive sport.
This tennis player will practice their ground strokes, volley, service and so on on the court. They will play games to evaluate their overall performance. However, beside holding a tennis racket, they will need to get stronger and faster to be able to perform in high level competition, this is when they have weight lifting, aerobics and calisthenics sessions added to their tennis sessions. It will condition the body and the muscles to perform better when practicing on the court. It it very easy to conclude, that if they do not practice their basic ground strokes regularly, the weightlifting and other activities will indeed be useless.
This is the same with brass players, Calisthenics will greatly help when we practice our instrument because the muscles required are well conditioned. But remember, Calisthenics alone without practice is useless and sometimes detrimental.
Calisthenics method for brass
There are a few methods out there about Calisthenics exercises for brass players, but we will explore one of the most popular, the method developed by Carmine Caruso – Musical Calisthenics for Brass.
This method is highly praised around brass players, and if you did not have the chance to explore it, you should. These calisthenics exercises are simple (doesn’t mean easy), yet if followed according the instructions, brass players will benefit from its results.
The famous “Six Notes” exercise
The first and probably most popular exercise in the Caruso method is the “six notes” exercise. It is the base of all the other lessons, and often is used as a part of a general warmup routine. The method is based on muscular activity, without taking into consideration any musical our sound aspect. And Carmine Caruso was very strict on this notion.
The lessons have to be performed in a strict and disciplined manner for it to have any effect, keeping a strict tempo being at the center of all activities.
Synchronization at the core
We cannot and actually should not consciously try to control all the muscles involved when playing.
Playing a Brass instrument involve activating plenty of muscles from the body. When one of the muscle is not strong enough or is out of sync, the whole playing breaks down.
With the Caruso method, the philosophy lies in the notion of synchronizing everything. That is when we start to make real and consistent progress. We cannot and actually should not consciously try to control all the muscles involved when playing, but we have to let the body learn (“sensitive” as Caruso would say it) the muscle to a certain skill. The only way is to have a perfect timing of all parties involved.
When playing an instrument, the musician is dealing with numerous body motions. It’s the synchronization
of these motions that produces the desired results. Synchronization requires perfect timing of all muscular
movements. Therefore, timing is of the utmost importance. ——Carmine Caruso (1979)
Using the Carmine Caruso will definitely help any brass player attain high degree of playing ability, however, I suggest anyone not familiar with it to have an experienced teacher yo guide them.
Carmine Caruso – Musical Calisthenics for Brass – Method book at Amazon.com